Category Archives: Gardens

A day for pollinators in prisons

Text by Dr. Jody Becker Green, Acting Secretary, Washington State Department of Corrections, and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager
Photos by Ricky Osborne

Between sessions, Bee Summit participants posed for a group photo.

Superintendent Dona Zavislan welcomed the summit guests to Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW).

On Friday March 3, SPP partners filled the gymnasium at Washington Corrections Center for Women for a summit on beekeeping programs in prisons. About 125 expert, apprentice, and novice beekeepers spent the day sharing best practices for rebuilding pollinator populations. We also shared the delights of working with honeybees and other pollinatorsthese social insects and plant-pollinator relationships served as lovely metaphors for productivity and mutual support.

During the summit, eight beekeeping students received their apprentice-level certification. The host prison offers beekeeping education within the Horticulture program taught by Ed Tharp (pictured with microphone), and as a complementary program instructed by Carrie Little, the founder of Mother Earth Farm. The apprentice beekeeper shown is Candace Ralston.

The agenda was packed, and covered everything from equipment safety to food justice to native pollinator habitat needs. Other highlights are described in photos throughout this article.

Lonniesha Veasey, an incarcerated beekeeper and Horticulture Teaching Assistant, shares her thoughts and questions during the summit.

The day ended with spring rain pounding on the gymnasium roof, and generous outpourings from incarcerated beekeepers, expert beekeepers, and leadership from the Washington State’s Department of Corrections (WA Corrections). Anticipating release in just a few days, an incarcerated woman reflected on her years in prison: she said that horticulture programs had become her reason to get up in the morning, and meant that she now has plans for her future. SPP’s co-director Steve Sinclair praised the event, and said, “We invited magical people here, so let’s go make magic!” A Massachusetts beekeeper, Susan Goldwitz, told the group that we are like bees, turning dust into sweet, liquid gold.

Staff came from all 12 WA Corrections’ prisons, and were joined by experienced beekeepers from across the state, incarcerated beekeepers, SPP-Evergreen staff and students, biologists, and other community partners and topic experts.

The current head of WA Corrections, Jody Becker-Green, gave final remarks. She thanked everyone in the room for the part they played in the summit, and in developing and offering pollinator programs in prisons. She described her own love of beekeeping, and the feeling in the room while she spoke was transcendent. An excerpt is offered here.

I am probably the last person you want up here doing closing remarks for this summit because I could talk about bees and beekeeping for hours!

I offer my deepest gratitude and appreciation to all of you, for the travel and schedule coordination it took to give a day to this event. Your generosity of time and spirit is remarkable. The only way programs like these are possible is through the many contributions each of you is willing to make. The fact that you keep showing up with your ideas, optimism, and creativity is an incredible gift to the prison community, and to the communities beyond the fence as well.

Acting Secretary Dr. Jody Becker-Green shared love for honeybees—their many impressive and amazing attributes—and brought a beautiful closing to the day’s events.

As we have learned today, bees are quite simply amazing creatures, whether they are the little solitary bees, living their relatively simple lives, or honeybees, thriving in incredibly complex, interwoven and democratic societal structures.

Next to humans, honeybees are perhaps the most widely studied creatures in nature. Throughout the years, research has demonstrated that a honeybee colony is instinctively able to organize itself into a super-efficient society. Honeybee colonies provide profound lessons in democracy, communication, teamwork, and decision-making that we may all be wise to learn from. I know that I have learned a lot from watching and studying the bees that make their home on my property and try to apply those lessons to leading a complex agency.

One of my favorite books, Honeybee Democracy, written by Thomas D. Seeley, describes how honeybee colonies make decisions both collectively and democratically. Seeley says that every year, faced with the life or death problems of choosing and traveling to a new home, honeybees stake everything on a process that includes collective fact-finding, vigorous debate and consensus building. The level of sophistication, communication, trust and connection that occurs within a hive is almost hard to comprehend.

Fruit trays spelled out SPP appreciation and, so fittingly, displayed fruits that rely on pollinators for reproduction. The summit was well supported by WCCWs event crew and staff members who provided a delicious and gorgeous spread of snacks, and decorated the gymnasium with flowers and banners.

My love for bees began about eight years ago after making a visit to Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC). At the time, I was working for the Department of Social and Health Services and was interested in learning more about the sustainability efforts underway within the Department of Corrections. After spending a great deal of time with the beekeepers at CCCC, I was hooked. It was only a matter of months before I become a beekeeper and achieved my certification.

Throughout the years, bees have become highly symbolic for me. I have found a much deeper meaning in the art of beekeeping beyond the ecological value they have in sustaining our ecosystems. Let me share just a few examples of this meaning with you.

Bees enter the world with distinct roles and commitment to the greater good. The spirit of the bee has a strong work ethic as they literally will work themselves to death, however, they also know the importance of stopping to smell and enjoy the flowers they are able to find the delicate balance between the two. With competing demands and priorities balance between work and life, balance is not always easy to attain and maintain. I constantly remind myself and others of the importance of balance for overall personal and professional health and well-being in order to be the best version of self in all that we do.

Bees play a very specific role in nature pollinating other plants. This is necessary to the on-going life cycle of many crops. An end result of pollination is the provision of honey and wax that is enjoyed by many, thus adding to their value. Einstein believed so deeply in the importance of bees to the ecosystem that he predicted if bees disappeared humans would not survive more than four years afterward.

The pollination process also symbolizes our social nature of interdependency and mutual benefit. Bees live and work as a community. As they go from flower to flower, that progression enriches the world.

SPP Co-Director Steve Sinclair acknowledges the composting crew at Washington State Reformatory as an example of the creativity and excellence achievable in a program.

Bees work with a spirit of cooperation, working cohesively for the good of their community. They show us the importance of both teamwork and communication in their day-to-day lives.

Bees are also strong protectors and defenders of that which is important to them. They are willing to give their life in defense of whatever mission prevails. As humans, we are anchored in core values and beliefs and will also defend that which we hold to be true in our words, actions and deeds.

Finally, while bees struggle with daunting environmental challenges, they show us about perseverance and resiliency. They support each other to overcome adversities, and it is that bravery, trust, and effort, that makes usand much of the life on earthable to depend on them.

 

Most of the funding for the event came from a generous donation from the Seattle Foundation to partners at The Evergreen State College. The Seattle Foundation has supported SPP annually for multiple years, and their support has made a real difference in what programs are able to achieve.

Thank you to Mann Lake, Betterbee, and Brushy Mountain Bee Farm, beekeeping suppliers who donated gifts for summit attendees.

Numerous partners helped make the event a success. From left to right: Evergreen graduate students covered presentation IT and note taking; WCCW’s event crew (red t-shirts) were our logistical hosts, ran the sound system, and made the space beautiful and functional; Felice Davis and Joslyn Rose Trivett MC’ed and coordinated the program, and Jeremy Barclay worked with KOMO 4 to produce a video about the summit.

More coverage of the summit and beekeeping in prisons programs:

Three expert and influential beekeepers share a moment at the conference. Beekeeping associations have given essential support to prison programs, and tell us that incarcerated beekeepers are invaluable to pollinator recovery in the state. From left to right: Gary Clueit, President of Washington State Beekeepers Assocation (WASBA); Laurie Pyne, Master Beekeeper and President of Olympia Beekeepers Association; and Ellen Miller, Vice President of WASBA.

Summit for Beekeeping in Prisons

By Emily Passarelli, SPP Green Track Coordinator, and Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education and Outreach Manager

A WSP Beekeeper gets geared up and ready to check on the hives. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

You might think that beekeeping in prisons is a nice idea, but not a big idea: maybe it’s a small, fanciful project that would crop up here or there. Not the case!

In Washington State prisons alone, we already have seven beekeeping programs up and running, and at least three more are in the works. Beekeeping is also in the prison at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and many corrections facilities nationwide, including Georgia, Maryland, IllinoisOregon, Florida, Nebraska, and LA County. Beekeeping programs can also be found in foreign prisons like England, New Zealand, Italy, and France. We’ve  been contacted by prisons interested in beekeeping in Massachusetts, Albania, and Canada!

Three Maryland facilities host honeybee programs to provide training for inmates and boost the local population of pollinators. These hives are at Maryland Correctional Institution for Women. Photo by Anthony DePanise of Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Outside of prison, reentry programs, like Sweet Beginnings in Chicago, offer meaningful work experience. The founding executive  director of Sweet Beginnings, Brenda Palms Barber, found that “Fewer than 4% of Sweet Beginnings participants go back into the criminal justice system, compared with the national average of more than 65% and the Illinois average of 55%.” How amazing is that?

Adding to the honeybee focus are countless prison gardens that are accessible to many types of pollinators: beds of flowers and herbs, small-scale vegetable production, and full-scale farms. Corrections facilities typically don’t use any chemical pesticides, so don’t contain the systemic poisons that threaten foraging pollinators; prison plantings are helping to rebuild pollinator habitat by offering a safe food supply. Some prisons add habitat structures for native pollinators, such as mason bee boxes at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center (see photo) and a literal-log delivered to the retention pond at Airway Heights Corrections Center.

A home for mason bees, a native pollinator, at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

These programs tap into the many therapeutic benefits of working with nature, which has been widely documented in scientific research. Working with honeybees is particularly soothing; it’s impossible to get good results with bees without calming down. Both inmates and staff sorely need relief from prison stresses, and nature programs can be a place of refuge and recharge.

Also these programs provide a way for inmates to “give back ” to communities and the environment.  In recent decades, pollinators have been dying at a frightening rate, putting our food sources in jeopardy: we depend on pollinators for more than 30% of human food and drink. Generally, nearly all plants with flowers need pollinators; 85% depend on insects for their reproduction! We need healthy hives to conserve and restore bee populations. In 2015, pollinator health was declared a national priority; as a hobby or career, beekeeping is has societal recognition and value. This is no fanciful endeavor—we need bees to thrive so that we can thrive.

A professional beekeeper devoted her summer vacation to teaching about bees in a prison; how cool is that. Photo by Ricky Osborne.

In Washington, we are ramping up to a full-day Summit for Beekeeping in Prisons, to be hosted by Washington Corrections Center for Woman on March 3rd. More than 100 people are registered, and they will come from all 12 Washington prisons, the Evergreen State College, various non-profits and community groups, and multiple beekeeping associations, including the statewide association that oversees beekeeping certification. A major bonus of holding the summit inside a prison is that incarcerated beekeepers will be able to participate. All partners will share best practices, future prison beekeeping plans, safety ideas, community outreach plans, and pollinator health knowledge. We can’t wait to hear what great ideas and thoughts come from our many, fantastic partners!

Each program depends on partnerships among incarcerated individuals, corrections staff, and expert beekeepers. They are united in learning about and tending to something beautiful, complex, and a little bit scary…until it becomes second nature.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saving Resources at Airway Heights Corrections Center

Text and photos by Joslyn Rose Trivett, SPP Education & Outreach Manager

Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) is located in eastern Washington, far from the environmental activism of the Puget Sound. Yet, the prison has become a statewide leader for conserving and recycling resources.  

AHCC is a model for energy conservation. Facility staff regularly check and restore their equipment, fixing it before it breaks. The approach improves performance and life expectancy, and staves off epic fails. By practicing preventative maintenance, they have become a model of efficiency.

garbageThe prison has also set the standard for sorting waste. Without any fancy equipment, they have figured out how to turn the waste stream into valuable commodities. They sort their waste at the source, or “up stream.” Every day, porters (we call them waste stream technicians) sort the waste stream into dedicated cans, and the results are impressive. Nearly everything is reclaimed or recycled; all that’s left is a tiny can of mixed-materials (see photo).

laughing-about-garbage

A porter (waste stream technician), AHCC’s Kraig Witt, and Sustainable Operations Manager Julie Vanneste discuss that it’s hard to know what “garbage” means anymore.

In the many gardens, staff and inmates have transformed hardpan into thriving soil with compost. They use no fertilizers or pesticides, and make their compost in small batches on site. The result is gorgeous, healthy produce.

An inmate gardener harvests high quality radishes outside his living unit. Each living unit has its own garden, and each has its own personality. The three gardeners who were tending this one with enormous enthusiasm.

An gardener harvests radishes outside his living unit.

Each living unit has its own garden, and each garden has its own personality, shaped by the gardeners who tend it. The three gardeners I met showed enormous enthusiasm for the work. They turned 1 strawberry plant into 1,200. They gleaned tomato and cantaloupe seeds from cafeteria food. They figured out how to reclaim seeds from everything they grow. They can boast a truly closed-loop system!

garlic-farmer

This Horticulture Porter said that adding masses of compost transformed this area from an unproductive low spot to the gorgeous plantings of garlic there now.